Debris – A Global Project for Artists ●

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:: Scroll down to view the Director of Debris Lee's presentation below ::

The Debris Project, installed at Aalborg University in Copenhagen as part of the 2014 Cosmobilities Conference on Networked Urban Mobilities

Lee Lee, Director, Debris •

The Debris Project is an international collaboration, structured as an open source creative platform to explore the environmental impacts of plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is quite literally a global network of organic, climatic and chemical mobilities. Plastic pollution infuses itself into environments and bodies, remaining for generations or centuries, even though the problem was only recently generated. The Debris Project looks at the residues left by a convenience-oriented consumer culture that is central to a fast-paced urban lifestyle, the material impacts on remote locations and misplaced cultural notions of “waste” and “disposability.”

By working outside the traditional boundaries of disciplinary practices, The Debris Project enacts a step beyond activist rhetoric while remaining critical towards the subject matter. There is no “model” that is offered for engagement, as models can often be impositions. The central idea is to use plastic debris to create locally-specific cultural representations of marine life across a wide range of cultures. The Project is designed to work through collaborations with organizations who have a demonstrated long-term commitment to addressing plastic pollution in their communities. Representations that are gathered from these collaborations contextualize the global scope of the issue and are pieced together in exhibitions that engage audiences on an international level. The practice consists of a local process of cleaning plastic debris, re-assembling it into art and using it as a tool for teaching—a process that has been carried out on several continents. The result is a physical installation made up of images documenting these processes spanning the globe, as well as an online platform ( for sharing artistic innovation and scientific evidence.

When one explores the use and misuse of the material in a wide range of cultural appropriations, it becomes evident that everyone has something to offer to building solutions. Instead of pointing blaming fingers at the “other,” participation in The Debris Project is radically inclusive. In a sort of role-reversal, those who dwell in the “backwaters” of globalized cultures throughout the global south are encouraged to be teachers of resourcefulness and best-use-of-materials. By encouraging collaboration that maintains geographic specificity, the project reflects upon the scope of the problem by integrating culturally specific representations from a wide range of places. The strength of this part of The Debris Project lies in gathering a wide range of cultural “voices” around this singular material that has become pervasive in the waters that connect us.

By building this representation of the global scope of the impacts of plastic pollution, the project becomes a tool to assist environmental scientists and educators in sharing evidence-based information with a broader public in order to help recognize plastic as an important material that should be used with care. The creative act is about preservation; it is a symbolic act of reparation that activates solution-building geared towards reducing plastic pollution at its source.